New York Sports Writers Choose Last Moment to Defend Luis Castillo

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIMarch 18, 2011

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Luis Castillo #1 of the New York Mets poses for a portrait during the New York Mets Photo Day on February 24, 2011 at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

I live in New York City. Well, Brooklyn to be exact. I've been a Mets fan my whole life and would consider myself fairly knowledgeable. I admit, I'm one of those guys who prefers the feel of a newspaper in my hands to the cold, lifeless feel of a computer when it comes to getting my news.

I read two newspapers each day: a New York Post, and a Daily News.

Each carries stories about the Mets and Yankees. Most New Yorkers know to read the Post for the Yankees and the News for the Mets, though I would say both are pretty balanced.

The biggest story over the last month, and last three years really, has been the plight of Luis Castillo. Since signing his four-year, $25 million contract in November 2007, Castillo has had his ups and downs.

I admit, I've jumped on Castillo plenty of times for his lackluster play, and I do not support his candidacy as the Mets second baseman this season. He's due $6 million and thanks to the poor defensive play of several of the other potential second baseman, has been able to stay in the mix this far into spring training.

There are those who support Castillo, thinking him the best player for the job, and there are those against him; probably more for the latter.

But what surprised me the most while perusing the newspapers this morning was the number of New York sports writers who have decided to come to Castillo's defense at the last possible moment.

It's no secret that Castillo is a likely candidate for release this spring, and it gets reported every day that it could be any day now. And since he has one foot out the door now, I guess it's time to defend Castillo for his play in New York.

Convenient timing.

A headline in the New York Post today reads: "Castillo's fate on line today as cuts loom."

Yes, this we know.

But Andy Martino of the Daily News and Ken Davidoff of Newsday have decided that now is the time to offer up excuses and defenses for Castillo. The number of anti-Castillo columns from both of those writers is practically limitless, but we'll ignore that little fact and just focus on today.

Martino wonders if Castillo would be met with as much scrutiny and animosity if he were white, and not Dominican. So never mind his sub-par play and defensive gaffes, it must be about race, right?

Martino writes:

Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan have played well as Mets, and have not faced the same anger. People who root for a team value production, above all other qualities, and have unleashed negativity on many white players in the past. But are nonwhite players more vulnerable to being labeled lazy malcontents, and less likely to be called "gamers?" Must they work harder to receive credit for positive contributions to the team?

That's right. Reyes and Pagan have "played well as Mets." That's the key phrase here—they've played "well." Castillo? Not so much. From almost the moment he came to New York, Castillo has been ugly in the field and even uglier at the plate.

No one wants to watch someone take the first two pitches for strikes, only to foul off nine pitches in a row before finally striking out or hitting a weak ground ball to short. Castillo does this on a regular basis, regardless of the situation.

And to label it about race is just rediculous. Mets fans have enjoyed and cheered for plenty of players who aren't white, as if that somehow matters. Mookie Wilson, Darrell Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, and even Jose Valentin have heard plenty of cheers and jeers over the years.

When you play bad, you get booed. It's not about race, and for Martino to try and make the Castillo situation about race, as if the Mets didn't favor Latin players for years, is just petty and uncreative. If anything, you could make the argument that it's the other way around, as Omar Minaya's "preference" for Latin players was well-documented.

Over the last three years though, Castillo has actually hit well in the so-called "clutch" situations. With runners in scoring position, Castillo has batted .282. With the bases loaded? .348. 

Those are excellent numbers and certainly worthy of recognition, but it's the overall body of work that proves to be Castillo's downfall.

In his three full seasons, Castillo has missed a total of 171 games. His best season, 2009, he played in 142 games, bating .302 with a .387 OBP and 20 stolen bases. In 2008 and 2010, however, Castillo appeared in only 86 and 87 games, respectively. That tiny sample size versus his almost full season in 2009 helps pad his overall numbers.

Last season, Castillo batted just .235 with 17 RBIs and a .337 OBP.

Davidoff paints Castillo in the colors of an "everyday guy" who has done nothing wrong. He writes:

The smart money says the Mets will release Castillo shortly. ... [And] it reflects worse on the Mets than on Castillo himself. "Sometimes things will happen. I tried the best I can," Castillo said before joining his non-traveling teammates. "That's what it is. That's why the fans sometimes, they try to push you into doing good. The fans start to feel bad, because they want you to do good." We're not here to present Castillo as some icon of integrity who has been wronged. He's just a low-energy baseball player—and at this point, not a very good one. But all Castillo did was say "yes" in November 2007 when the Mets offered him a four-year, $25-million contract that became a likely albatross the minute it sprang to life.

All Castillo did was sign his name for four years and $25 million and immediately became an "albatross." No one can dispute that the amount of money former Mets GM Omar Minaya gave Castillo was way too much, but it's not the amount that makes Castillo an albatross.

If that's all it was, then no one would be able to criticise a player who signs a big contract and doesn't produce. Certainly there's nothing wrong with Castillo "getting his." Who could blame him? I know I can't play second base, but if someone wanted to give me $25 million to do my best, I'd be in the starting lineup tomorrow.

But it's Castillo's on-the-field performance that elicits the hatred of fans, and even one off-the-field moment was particularly aggravating.

The Mets have made a tradition of going to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with the injured veteran soldiers. Castillo did not want to go during their most recent trip, saying, "I've never gone there because I don't like to see things like that."

I don't like to see things like that either, but I'm sure those injured soldiers, who've lost limbs so that Castillo can play his game, like it even less. Maybe if Castillo was a bigger person it might have earned him some point with the fans.

It's not about race and it's not about Castillo earning $25 million. It's about on-the-field performance. It's about missing games every season with various injuries. And yes, Castillo has worked very hard to come back from those injuries, and it's worth noting that Castillo was one of the few Mets who didn't spend the majority of 2009 on the DL.

Castillo might find himself on the chopping block by the end of the week, maybe even today. And when he does finally leave New York, whether it's in March or the end of September, Mets fans will rejoice. But Castillo has, at times, been a good player and any boos he's heard have nothing to do with race or anything that hasn't happened on the field.

Castillo gets paid to play a game, and when you don't play it well, you'll attract the boo birds. That's sports and it's not any more complicated than that.


Update: Luis Castillo has been released by the Mets today. So that's that.